You might want to make new friends for various reasons.
Maybe your relationship just ended, and many of your friends followed your ex. Maybe you just moved to a new neighborhood and don’t know a soul. Maybe you lost your spouse, with whom you happily spent all your free time. Or maybe you just want to broaden your circle and meet new people.
Whatever your reasons, there’s no doubt that meaningful friendships are good for us. “Having solid friendships is important for both our physical health and emotional well-being,” said Irene S. Levine, Ph.D, a psychologist and producer of The Friendship Blog, a popular online advice column on friendship.
For instance, this Australian study found that people with the most friends lived 22 percent longer than those with fewer friends. This study, one of the largest of women’s health, found that less social support boosted the risk of mortality for women with breast cancer. This Chinese study found similar results, along with an increased risk for cancer recurrence.
A 2010 meta-analysis of 148 studies found that people with strong social relationships had a 50 percent greater chance for survival, regardless of their age, sex, initial health status or cause of death.
“Friends help us share our burdens, cheer our successes, and allay our sense of loneliness and anxiety,” Levine said.
Unfortunately, making new friends gets tougher with age. “When we are young, particularly when we are in school, it is very easy to make new friends because everyone is at the same stage of life, doing similar things, with a fair amount of discretionary time.”
When we are older, our lives get more complicated and more responsibilities, both personal and professional, pile up, she said.
In fact, some consider making new friends harder than dating, said Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, and author of the book The Friendship Fix. One reason is that there’s “no clear script.”
It’s also harder to figure out if the other person is interested, she said. And people might stay in multiple bad friendships, disrupting their “ability and energy and time to meet new people.”
Fortunately, while obstacles exist, there are many ways you can find friends. Here are several expert insights and suggestions.
1. Remember that looking for friends at any age is normal.
As people get older, many assume that everyone already has friends, and no one is on the lookout for any more. But that’s not true, Levine said.
“[M]ost friendships are dynamic and don’t last forever. Thus, people need to continually replenish their ‘stock’ of friendships.” Many women visit Levine’s blog concerned about not having enough friendships.
2. Pursue your pastimes and passions.
“The best way to make friends is to be engaged, doing the things you enjoy doing,” Levine said. Following your pastimes and passions – “whether at work or outside work” – increases your chances of “finding kindred spirits who share your interests and values.”
3. Put yourself in situations where you see the same people, over and over.
If you see the same individual every day or every week, superficial relationships can become real friendships, Levine said. “Often familiarity and being casual acquaintances are breeding ground for making new friendships.”
Bonior also suggested reaching out to acquaintances. “Start conversations with acquaintances and follow up with them, to keep things going and let them know you’re interested in their lives.”
So what are good situations for finding friends? Try the gym; take adult education classes; or join a club, political group or volunteer organization, Levine said.
4. Take your search online.
The Internet isn’t just helpful for finding love. It’s also helpful for finding friends. Bonior suggested visiting www.girlfriendcircles.com, an online community that connects women with new friends.
If you’re in a larger city, try www.meetup.com, which lists groups and activities based on different interests, “from athletics to book clubs to cooking to gardening to pets to knitting to films to volunteer work.” It gives people the opportunity to get together offline.
She also suggested joining listservs within your neighborhood or apartment building.
5. Temper your expectations.
Keep in mind that not every attempt at friendship will work out, Bonior said. In fact, it’s “totally expectable and even healthy” to experience some misses. As she said, “Would you expect to marry the first person you ever dated?”
6. Take things slowly.
Remember that friendships blossom over time. “Close friendships take time to nurture with each individual slowly sharing intimacies with each other,” Levine said.
Making new friends can feel awkward and even intimidating. But try to push past the initial discomfort. Making new friends is an “opportunity to build new relationships that are good fits for you,” Bonior said.